13 Movies That Influenced It Follows
Article By: Ben Raphael Sher
Part of the fun of watching It Follows, the horror sleeper from writer-director David Robert Mitchell, is spotting the ways in which it takes familiar movie moments/moods/styles and twists them around into something exciting and new, like the Love Boat. This week’s Friday 13 highlights 13 movies that either influenced Mitchell (according to various interviews), or at least seem strikingly similar to It Follows in various ways.
1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Mitchell has repeatedly cited George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead (1979) as major influences. Obviously, all three movies are about zombie-like villains. However, more intriguingly, all three movies are highly invested in making spaces that are supposed to be ordinary and comforting (the home; the mall) into terrifying traps and warzones. Also, all three films have beautiful cinematography, which only makes their disturbing content more uncanny and bizarre.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
There are many reasons that It Follows has garnered favorable comparisons to A Nightmare on Elm Street: Its depiction of darkness lurking beneath a suburban community that’s almost over the top in its ordinariness; the analogies that it makes between teens facing evil forces and dealing with alienation from negligent, alcoholic parents; and its focus on a relatively complex, tough heroine.
3. Messiah of Evil (1973)
This hugely underrated creep-fest about a woman who goes looking for her father in an abandoned, cursed seaside community shares It Follows’ slow dreaminess and its ability to create an atmosphere of dread from familiar locations (after seeing Messiah of Evil, you’ll never again feel safe in a supermarket). The dead-eyed zombies in It Follows, who appear like normal living people except somehow not, also share a lot in common with Messiah’s wandering undead, who seem to be creeping up on you slowly until you realize that it’s too late. Finally, Messiah of Evil shares It Follows’ knack for stunningly composed shots and its obsession with water symbolism.
4. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
It Follows’ Jay doesn’t know whether she’s seeing zombies because of a sexually transmitted curse, or if she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder hallucinations after being drug, tied up, and terrorized by her boyfriend. Similarly, Jessica doesn’t know whether she’s seeing ghosts, or whether she’s having a second nervous breakdown induced by her questionably loyal boyfriend. Like It Follows, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death has a slow burn, ever-growing creepiness. By the time you become aware that it’s gotten under your skin, you know that it will be there forever. Also, more water symbolism!
5. The Thing (1982)
Everybody has talked about the ways in which It Follows pays homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween. We get it! But fewer people have noted the film’s resemblance to Carpenter’s classic remake of The Thing, which Mitchell cites as his favorite Carpenter film. The Thing also focuses on a bunch of angst-ridden, isolated people who find themselves stalked by a monster that inhabits the people closest to them. Also, It Follows’ phenomenal score resembles Carpenter’s early ‘80s scores as much if not more than it resembles his iconic, hugely effective, but somewhat less complicated work on Halloween. Mitchell has also stated that It Follows was indelibly influenced by Howard Hawks’ 1956 film The Thing from Another World, which John Carpenter remade.
6. Shivers aka They Came from Within (1975)
Shivers, one of the first films directed by David Cronenberg (one of Mitchell’s favorite directors) is possibly the first, and definitely one of the all-time best, sexually transmitted, apocalyptic monster movies. The residents of a glamorous, futuristic high rise find themselves sexually passing along a leach-like creature that turns anybody it inhabits into wonton maniacs who must convert others.
7. Ganja & Hess (1973)
Like Yara, who likes to quote philosophy from her seashell compact e-reader, Ganja and Hess, a wealthy, gorgeous, black vampire couple, take time between bloodsucking excursions to give philosophical monologues about misogyny, race, and class issues. Ganja & Hess and It Follows also share a welcome—what’s the word?—artiness.
8. The Shining (1980)
It Follows’ draws upon Stanley Kubrick’s affection for long tracking shots that suggest that evil is ever-present, even when it isn’t manifesting itself physically.
9. River's Edge (1987)
Various writers have suggested that It Follows draws inspiration not just from horror films, but also from less generically specific movies like Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. Mitchell has also cited Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. The film owes a debt to another sleeper, Tim Hunter’s brilliant River’s Edge. Like It Follows, River’s Edge follows a group of teenaged friends in Everytown, U.S.A. The movie chronicles their ambiguous responses when they discover that one member of their group has murdered his girlfriend and left her body, un-reported, by the river. It Follows bears an uncanny resemblance to River’s Edge, with its creepy yet lyrical tone, and the overwhelming ennui that characterizes the behavior of its characters.
10. It (1990)
The small-town in which It Follows’ protagonists live (complete with a single screen movie palace!) strongly resembles Stephen King’s perpetually quaint, intensely terrifying town of Derry, Maine in It (the novel and the iconic miniseries). The similarity in settings makes sense, since It also follows a group of friends who unite together in an effort to conquer a shape-shifting evil that preys on their individual anxieties.
11. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) & (1978)
Writer-director David Robert Mitchell has cited the original Body Snatchers and its excellent 1978 remake as “tonal influences”. Indeed, It Follows conveys a similar sense of gradually building paranoia and dread, as its protagonists realize that nobody around them can ever be trusted.
12. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
In various interviews, David Robert Mitchell cites The Creature of the Black Lagoon as his favorite horror film of all time. In an interview with The Playlist, Mitchell stated that he was influenced by Creature’s “slow moving, very persistent” monster, and its audience-encompassing environment (the film was originally shot and exhibited in 3D).
13. The Lords of Salem (2012)
Rob Zombie and Mitchell both seem highly invested in giving the audience a sense of being out of time. Both It Follows and The Lords of Salem sort of seem like they take place in the present day, and yet in both movies paraphanelia from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s (rusty old cars; vinyl albums; ‘80s soda cans; old TVs with black and white movies playing on them; an e-reader disguised as a ‘60s seashell compact) dominate the frame. They both raise the question: Why is the past so appealing, and/or unnerving, in horror movies? We can only keep re-watching the movies to figure it out.
Ben Raphael Sher is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, where he also teaches. His work has appeared in Fangoria, Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, and Back Stage. You can read more of his work here.